The Great North Run

This is not a blog about grief and it never will be, but it’s impossible to write this post without touching upon it a little bit. My Mother sadly passed away on the 6th August and the grief is heavy. It’s debilitating and it is physical. I am surprised by just how physical it is and I am exhausted. All of the time. Some days walking is difficult, but I have been forcing myself to run and then walk and then run a bit more as often as I can. The days when I run are really the only days when I manage to sleep at night too so there is added incentive.

The topic of the Great North Run was weighing heavy on my mind as Mum had told me to do it.

A few people messaged me to say, “don’t do, it’s a terrible idea and you have enough on your plate” and they were absolutely right of course. Also a few people messaged me to say “do it. It’s a race unlike any other, but only do it if you can enjoy it”. I had no idea what to do. I decided to leave it and believed that the right answer would present itself, one way or another.

In the weeks after my Mum leaving us, I was lucky to have the support of family and very good friends. The Red Lady was always coming to support me running the Great North Run, if I did it, but she was never going to run it with me. She wasn’t trained for it, last having run a half marathon in 2016 and only running a couple of 10ks this year. One very good friend, I won’t embarrass her by naming her, has contacts at the Great North Run and over coffee when she was checking how I was, asked me if it would help me decide if the Red Lady could get a place to run it with me? I decided it would and she worked her magic and before I could even blink, the Red Lady had a place. The conversation when I spoke to the RL went a bit like this: “so, er, if I could get you a place on the GNR, do you fancy running it with me?”……….”what? that is INSANE! and yes, definitely!”.

So we were doing it.

GNR Celebrity busesWe arrived at the hotel the night before, following a 5 hour train ride, stiff, hungry and wondering what on earth we were playing at! An early night followed, during which I slept for about 45 minutes  and then a 6.45am alarm. At breakfast I was too nervous to eat but forced down some porridge and toast and then we went to wait for the bus and meet our “Team Bodie Hodges” team mates. What an absolutely lovely bunch of people they are. Many of them had run the GNR before and they were full of tales about how incredibly awesome it is. I was excited and nervous. The bus arrived to collect us and with a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, we boarded the bus.

We were deposited around 300 metres past the start line into a VIP area which had private toilets (I need about 74 pre race wees on average so this was magnificent news) and were able to watch the elite women and wheelchair athletes warming up. It was AMAZING.

GNR Nell and Gabby Logan

Dropping my bag off, I finally got to meet Nell McAndrew. What an absolutely lovely lady she is. Completely down to earth, friendly, and chatting like she was An old pal we’d met for a drink in the pub with even though this was the first time I had ever met her. We chat a bit on Instagram but we’d never met and I was so incredibly grateful that she had arranged this whole day for me. I tried to tell myself to stay cool, but I probably wasn’t! I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

We were able to mill around near the start line and watch the elite ladies go off. Being 10 metres away from Brigit Kosgei, Mary Keitany and Charlotte Purdue was an absolute highlight and privilege . They look so strong and fast. I could have started in the front row if I’d wanted to for the main race (and a couple of the Team Bodie Hodges did!) but I’m afraid that fear of being trampled to death got the better of me and so the RL and myself bid my team mates farewell and moved about 10 rows further back.

And then we were off.

With neither of us being even close to being half marathon fit, the Red Lady and myself had devised a strategy to get us round in one piece, and hopefully without injury. This was to run the first 3k in one go (in order to stop being crushed by the masses) and then run the rest of the race strictly adhering to run 3 minutes and then walk 1 minute and to keep to the left as much as possible to try and keep out of the way of the speedier runners. However, we needn’t have worried as the start of GNR is on two sides of a road. The elites were on one side and the celebrities and charity runners were on the other side so the first couple of kilometres were fine. Not one person was trampled and we were all smiling.

All was well until the runners came through who were chasing times. It became a bit “pointy elbowed” at this point and we did our best to keep out of their way as they speeded past us. We got into a habit of tucking in tight as soon as the red pacer flags ran past knowing that this was “peak” trample period. I understand what it’s like to go for a time if you’ve trained for long weeks to achieve one, but trampling over a middle aged trundler to achieve one is not ok and runner etiquette should be considered.

I have run quite a few races in my short running career, but I have never, ever, EVER run a race that is as noisy and well supported as the Great North Run. The crowds are SO LOUD that I found myself almost begging for some peace and quiet. Every third person had a tub of jelly babies, haribo or sweets, there were motivational signs, kids demanding high fives, spectators shouting our names, offering us ice-pops, setting us their own impromptu water stations, beer stops (yes at Mile 10 there was a chap filling up cups of Newcastle Brown and handing them out – obviously I had one), handing out cups of Lucozade that they had bought themselves, getting their garden hoses out to spray us and cool us down. It was AMAZING. It was not just for the beginning and end, pretty much the entire route was like this. It was hot and Newcastle was ready to party.

There were many highlights, too many to mention, but Elvis, singing karaoke in the middle of the road at mile 11(ish) was definitely one of them. The Red Lady and I danced past him and sang a bit too.

But it wasn’t just the spectators having a great time, the runners were too. Newcastle has a lot of bridges and under passes and so everytime we went under one, it is apparently law that we all shout “Oggie oggie oggie…….”. After about 57 rounds of this, I was ready to hit the open roads.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was epic and it was then, for the first time, that I got a sense of just how many people there were running the race. We could see runners as far as the eye could see and for the first time on the race, I felt a bit emotional.

Our 3/1 strategy worked remarkably well, on the whole. We had promised each other that we would strictly stick to the gameplan, otherwise, we knew that we would end up walking more than we wanted. I kept an eye on my Garmin watch and was in charge of shouting run and walk. 3 minutes is not a long time to run and I quickly got into a routine. As we ran, by the time I first glanced at my watch, it was usually showing that we’d been running 90 seconds, then I would look again and we only had 20-30 seconds left. 60 seconds was enough time to recover and RL was very good at reigning me in when I would go off too quickly at the start of each 3 minute segment. I tried not to think about the distances only the next 3 minutes. 10k rolled around and I have to tell you that it was the best, easiest and most enjoyable 10k I have ever run (running is always more enjoyable when you don’t care how fast you are going). We didn’t chat much whilst running, but chatted plenty whilst walking, often laughing about something we had just seen. I knew that kilometres 10-16 would feel tough so just tried to focus and on the whole it was ok although clearly it wasn’t entirely comfortable.

GNR Mile 10 ALONE High Res

Around the 10-11 mile mark, I felt tearful suddenly and this threatened everything because 3/1 works because your breathing is regulated, but crying really messes up your breathing, and I could feel proper snotty, gut wrenching tears bubbling under the surface. I confided in my buddy what was happening and we decided to take a couple of longer walk breaks to get things back under control, which we did. 2 walk breaks of 2 minutes and we were back in business.

We were now into the final 3 miles and we were tired but could feel the end was close. At the end of the GNR, you see the sea, then go down a very steep hill (which hurt my knees, ankles and boobs as the bounce factor on a steep downward hill should not be underestimated) and then you turn onto the final stretch towards the finish line for the final mile. We cheered when we saw the sea. I could hardly believe that we were already nearly there, but the final mile felt long. My legs were tired and my feet were burning.

If the crowds along the route were loud, they were nothing compared with the final straight. I couldn’t hear anything that the RL was saying to me at all. They were 10 deep at the barrier and people were sat on a Grandstand clapping and cheering us in. We crossed the line and I absolutely sobbed my heart out. We completed the race in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 15 seconds. It was slow, but I genuinely didn’t care a jot. It was magnificent and I truly count the GNR as one of my greatest ever achievements.

GNR finishing on my own

It is now that I must pay tribute to the Red Lady. Not only for agreeing to run a race with me that she wasn’t trained for (she’s mad), but also for how incredibly happy and smiley she was throughout the entire race. As we chugged along, she practically skipped, almost dancing and grinned the whole way through the experience.

We both lost our Mums this year to cancer and so we both had moments of pain during the race but we got through it together.

After the race, being in the VIP pavilion, we had a shower (yes, a SHOWER) something to eat and then we were on a coach that was given a police escort back to the hotel afterwards (as the roads were all still closed!)

I bid my team mates farewell and we went back to the hotel to head to the airport.

It was the most enjoyable race I have ever run. More importantly, it has re-ignited my love affair with running which has been absent for many months now. The Red Lady has told me it had the same effect on her. Therefore, we are both signed up to run it again next year but have made each other the promise that the GNR will always be our “happy” race and we will never rush it. It will never be our PB course, because there are too many kids to high five and too many beers to drink en route…. I will also be running for Team Bodie Hodges next year again and intend to raise some money for them.

Fearless Westonbirt Sept 2019

For the rest of this year I have only one plan. Keep running. I’m not going to put myself under any pressure for times but I’m just going to take each day as it comes and hopefully complete a few races. Life is for living and it should be enjoyed. I ran a 10k at Westonbirt at the weekend (slowly using 3/1 again) and I also have a place for the Cardiff Half marathon at the beginning of October.

One day at a time and keep moving forward. There are times in life when training hard and pushing for fast times are right but there are also times when they are not.

I have some plans forming for next year already, but for now until Christmas, the only plan I have is to keep moving forward and try and smile as much as possible.

 

To cleat, or not to cleat…

In January I ran 51k, cycled 80k, swam 2825m and attended 6 PT sessions.

I’ve had to drop my trained sessions with Dr Crane down to one a week as I was struggling to fit everything in around home and work and so now only attend PT on a Monday. The half marathon is now only 4 weeks away this coming weekend and so the long runs are back with 10k becoming frequent and a 14k run planned for this weekend.

Watch 1500m swimSwimming is ongoing and some swims are good, and some are not. Some weeks I can’t remember all that Triton has taught me and it’s a bit hap hazard, but my distance is improving even if my technique leaves a lot to be desired. This week I swam 1500m which is the furthest I have swum since I was at school.

The largest part of any triathlon is always the cycling and as I have documented previously, I love cycling. I love my bike, Shiny Sheena, and I’m learning to love the padded shorts and cycling clothes that accompany the activity. However, what I don’t enjoy about cycling is how technical it is and how complicated and baffling it is to a beginner.

I am someone that will always research anything new that I am undertaking and I also enjoy the research process. This is true of anything I do– we are currently are researching Labrador breeders as we hope to add to our family later this year with a puppy. I dream of running through the woods and fields with my dog running beside me, off lead, in the vein of the Dalmation Mamas that I stalk on Instagram. They have magnificently combined the activity of walking their dogs whilst running and it looks glorious – beautiful scenery, fresh air and enormous blue skies. I want some of that in my life. One of these ladies have even set up a business doing this. If you want your dog walked whilst she runs with them, send me a message and I’ll put you in touch. (I’m not on commission by the way, I just think they are fabulous).

So back to cycling. When you decide to cycle, you think you will jump on the bike and start peddling. You then quickly, reconcile yourself to the fact that your bottom will never like you again and may well never recover from being made to sit on such an uncomfortable saddle, but apart from this it’s fairly straight forward.

Then, someone suggests padded shorts as they will help your bottom – so you get some and it does help, but still you experience discomfort.

Chafing.

Now I have experienced chafing before whilst running on a few occasions. The friction that is caused by material (often damp from the sweat) moving rhythmically hundreds and thousands of times, often tiny little movements which causes the skin to rub away. You are usually unaware of it until you get in the shower and experience a scene not unlike Hitchcock’s Psycho where you scream so loudly the cat falls off the windowsill and your daughters storm into the bathroom with fear etched across their faces terrified at what they might find.

But cycling chafing is a whole new ballgame of horror. It’s also not something anyone ever warns you about either (unless you know them very well) as it’s a bit embarrassing. Luckily for you, I don’t care about being embarrassed so I am here to share my wisdom and experience with you.

When you cycle for an hour, even with a padded bottom (do not wear underwear, this is critical), the movement of your legs rotating around on the peddles causes friction in your nether regions. Obviously, I can’t comment on what the situation is like for men, but for women, it is staggering. There is a lot of skin and erm…flesh down there, right in the hot spot of all the action, and it rubs. It rubs a lot.  The thing is, you’re not aware of it when it happens the first time. Basically, your whole bottom hurts from the saddle so the specifics of chafing are unknown……. until you need to use the toilet. I sat on the loo and waited for the comforting trickle to start unware of what was about to happen.

Oh, my goodness. The horror. The burning sensation. It felt as though the urine was physically burning a hole into my…. bits. Imagine a soldering iron……ARGH. I was in a public toilet when this first happened to me and I had to bite my hand to stop myself from screaming. The cat falling off the windowsill would have been the least of my worries if members of the public had heard my toe curling screams of agony. And the worst of it was, that this was the half way stop point and I then had to cycle home again. I won’t dwell on this further, but it was not nice and unlike anything that I had ever experienced before, and I had had no warning. I asked Merida what I could do to alleviate the pain (I didn’t go into details as an accomplished cyclist herself, I knew that she would understand what I was asking about) and she did. You can buy creams and lotions to put “down there” – liberally is my advice – and it definitely does help to mitigate the unpleasantness.

When husband and I cycled to Bath on my birthday mid-January, I took a little “travel pot” of cream and re-applied it for the journey home. One of my largest concerns about the triathlon is how I am going to apply this cream to my nether regions in the transition phase, after a swim in a lake and getting out of a wetsuit, without anyone seeing anything that they shouldn’t. Should I ask my Mum to make me a “modesty robe” so I can get changed in public without showing my wares to all and sundry, or should I adapt the philosophy that nobody will care what I am doing as they’ll all be worrying about their own stuff anyway? More on this in months to come I am sure.

So apart from comfort, the other technical bit about cycling is power. For a 56 mile cycle, I want to get it completed as quickly as possible and therefore want to have as much power going through my feet as possible which will in turn, rotate the wheels quicker. This means cycling shoes. I have seen people wearing these before and frankly they look weird. The shoes have “cleats” which are bits of plastic that are screwed into the bottom of the shoe, which you push into the pedals resulting in a pleasing “click” noise. You are then secured in and become part of the bike. This increases your power as you not only push down when you pedal, but you pull up too – which doesn’t happen when you pedal in trainers.

I received cycling shoes, cleats and pedals for Christmas but up until a few days ago, they had remained in their box. Dr Crane is very enthusiastic about cleats and as I am training with him to keep my cadence (technical word for how many times I rotate the pedals in a minute) to 80-90 a minute (fast!) cycling shoes and cleats will help this.

Shoes and cleats

Upon opening the box, there were no instructions as to what to do or how to assemble them. They are a reputable brand and again this was annoying. Once you’re in the cycling club, you’re in. But finding this stuff out at the beginning is hard. Merida came to my assistance once again and now the pedals and cleats are ready to go. I’m too scared to try them out on the open road just yet as if you don’t clip your feet out quickly enough when you need to put your foot down, you fall over sideways, usually a road junction. So, for the time being, my bike is attached to the indoor trainer and I will spend the next couple of weeks practicing clipping in and out as I cycle in my back room.

I have also bought a gadget called a cadence sensor, but already exhausted from the cleats fiasco, I haven’t had the enthusiasm to open the box yet. I’ll report back next time. I need to practice with cleats as Team Fearless (myself, Merida and RubyRed) accompanied by the Baron are planning a 75k cycling in 3 weeks’ time. 75k?! I will need the power, the cream, the padded shorts and probably an ambulance, but we’ll see what happens.

Runing in the Forest of Dean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January and phase two….

eliz and me boxing dayChristmas has been and gone in a wink of an eye. It was predictably busy and mince pie filled but I somehow managed to keep my training on track with PT and as many runs as I could fit in. A “little and often” was the mantra and this included a lovely Boxing Day trot with my sister Queenie who has really caught the running bug since last Summer. She’s entered the Bristol 10k and I think we will be racing…!

I had very determined plans to run Eastville Parkrun on New Year’s Day and get my 2019 off to a positive start, but alas I was still fast asleep at 10.30am following a 3am bedtime and epic kitchen disco the night before.

Unfortunately it got worse and shortly afterwards, I came down with a hideous cold that lasted the rest of the week and meant that I didn’t manage any other runs, cycles or swims. Back to work followed on the Wednesday and I was a bit frustrated at the, not exactly, flying start to the year.

At my first PT session with Dr Crane, the following week, I was presented with the next phase of my training plan. It had ramped up a notch or two and now included swimming and cycling and I was relieved to see them both on the plan. In addition to the two PT sessions, the plan now had a swim, a longer cycle and a longer run but the runs were only increasing by 5 minutes and for January the longest run was to be only 70 minutes. I could feel the panic set in as I read it as in order to complete 21.2k on the 10 March (the Big Half) I would need to be at least be running up to 14k by the end of January, as this is what my previous plans have entailed. 70 minutes probably wouldn’t even get me to 10k (although I am ever hopeful..)  Dr Crane explained calmly that although I am running the Big Half, I need to decide what I’m actually training for here. I didn’t quite understand what he was asking me until the penny dropped. I’m training for a half Ironman distance triathlon, NOT a half marathon. Essentially, the half marathon is going to be a training run as part of the triathlon programme. With this in mind, I won’t be tapering in the run up to the half in the same way that I have previously and I also shouldn’t race it…..(well no promises there obviously!)

For this week, this has been the plan:

MONDAY: PT – weights and cycling
TUESDAY: Swimming 1200m Run – 30 minutes
WEDNESDAY: Rest
THURSDAY: Swimming lesson
FRIDAY: PT – cycling and weights
SATURDAY: Run 60 minutes
SUNDAY: Orienteering Cycle for 60 minutes

We tweaked it a bit and added in one extra short run as I like to run with my friend Lady J whilst our daughters play hockey on a Tuesday evening and this is just a sensible use of time, but apart from having to flex the days here and there for work stuff, the first week has largely been ok.

The sections in italics were not initially on the plan I was given by Dr Crane but I have added them in. My swimming lesson on a Thursday needs to keep happening and my swimming bock of lessons I have paid for doesn’t finish until March. The lessons aren’t strenuous at all though as they are largely technique driven meaning that all swimming is doubly slow as Triton encourages me and my 4 classmates to slow the entire movement down to perfect it and learn it properly. I am constantly told I am going too fast as believe it or not, it’s hard to swim front crawl as though you are in slow motion. The point is that the swimming lesson is not strenuous.

Now the plan is quite full and busy as you can see, but I am committed. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things though. My youngest daughter was 11 last week and apart from her birthday presents, the thing she was most looking forward to was running parkrun solo. As I had to run 60 minutes according to the plan, it would have made much more sense to have just taken myself off for a plod on Saturday morning alone, but as well as being a trainee triathlete, I am also, and more importantly, a Mum. So I was going to parkrun too. We got there early and I started running straightaway around the park. I was able to get to the start just as everyone else (647 of them on Saturday morning) were setting off and so as my usual parkrun time is 38-40 ish minutes, this would leave me with only 5-10 minutes to run at the end which would make a lovely cool down. This was all fine and worked pretty well. My daughters completed their Parkruns in respectable 30.32 and 31.45 and husband was sub 30 as usual.

lois and i parkrun

I felt ok but I did push myself over the final lap and so knew I needed to stretch properly afterwards. All would have been well if I hadn’t promised my daughters that I would take them to town in the afternoon as they were keen to spend the rest of their Christmas and birthday money. Despite a shower and a good stretch, I could feel my entire body start to physically seize up over the course of the afternoon and I was practically begging them at 6pm to go home and not just because I had spent 45 minutes in the Primark changing rooms. I did 25000 steps on Saturday and I was exhausted.

The next day, Sunday, Daughters and I were orienteering at Ashton Court at 10am. I absolutely love orienteering. If you’ve never done it, please try it. You don’t have to run and plenty of people walk it. I spent the most glorious 55 minutes running around woodland in beautiful countryside and for the first time ever, I completed the course without getting lost.  Now orienteering was NOT on the plan, but I love it so did it anyway. To my mind, balance comes in different forms doesn’t it? Straight after orienteering we had a mad dash to get Eldest daughter to a hockey match up in Failand. Sandwiches were eaten in the car and then I had a 60 minute cycle on my plan and 3 changes of clothes packed to make the day work. My husband is very supportive of my exercise endeavours and I know that I am lucky in this respect. He cycled my bike up to Failand to watch the hockey and then we swapped. He drove the car and daughters home and I then cycled to meet RubyRed’s husband, the Baron, who had very kindly volunteered to meet me and join me on a cycle ride. I am not that confident on roads and I’m still struggling a bit with the gears so I was grateful to have an experienced rider in charge.

We cycled out towards Barrow Gurney and he shouted helpful instructions about gears, how to manage climbs and I absolutely loved every single second of it. I learned that cycling down steep hills is terrifying and I was shouting to myself “I’m going to die” as we descended at speed. As we sped past the airport we peaked at 51 kph. That is REALLY fast and I haven’t even got my special cycling shoes and pedals on yet. THe Baron and I went our separate ways not far from Temple Meads and when I rang our doorbell, husband opened the door and looked visibly shocked to see me. “You were fast?” he said. I replied, “I KNOW” with a big grin on my face. Big thanks to the Baron for Sunday and to my amazing friend RubyRed too.

So as you can see, it was a busy week and exhaustion has been quite a feature of the evenings. Training in December, when work is quiet is one thing, but training in January which is one of the busiest months of the year when you work in recruitment is something quite different. I haven’t barely managed to catch a breath. School run, work, PT, family birthdays and training commitments have made for a very tired Claire indeed. I have also lost 11 pounds since New Year’s Day which whilst I am pleased about it, does seem to be quite a lot. I am eating well and focussing on protein for muscle recovery but the weight is dropping off quickly and this again is making me tired.

When I arrived for PT yesterday, Dr Crane asked how I was and I was honest and said that although I wasn’t sore (30 minutes of tortuous foam rolling had taken the edge off that on Sunday night) I did feel a bit weary. I wear a Garmin watch which gives me millions of statistics (most of which I don’t understand) but one thing I do take note of is my “resting heartrate”. This is how many times your heart beats in a minute when you are asleep and is a fairly good indicator or overall health. Mine is usually 51-54, but on Sunday night it was registering at 61. I started on the treadmill for the session of scheduled sprints which started with a 5 minute jogging warm up but my legs were not playing ball at all and my heartrate was through the roof. I felt dreadful. Sweat was pouring from me and it just wasn’t happening. Very quickly Dr Crane came the conclusion that sprints were not happening (even if I had wanted to do them) and we went and did weights instead. He also sent me some poignant reading material about how rest is important! Today I have rested and worked from home and have spent most of the day eating protein as I was hungry. This is a new and challenging process for me and I know now that I am going to have to listen to my body and rest when I need to rest. Orienteering on Sunday probably wasn’t the best idea from a training point of view and it is almost certainly what pushed me over the edge, but I loved it. So if I need to rest today in order to do something I really enjoyed off the plan, then so be it. I know Dr Crane is supportive of this but this is new for me. Not going at 100% all the time is going to be essential if I am going to complete the triathlon in one piece.

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I will be 44. To celebrate (and the plan has been tweaked to allow for this) I’m taking a day off work (or at the least a few hours) and Husband and I are going to cycle to Bath for lunch and then cycle back. I hope it won’t rain, but even if it does I don’t care. This training is hard work and I’m going to have to dig deep to get through it, therefore doing things I really enjoy is going to be important if I am to survive the next 6 months at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swim, bike, run, medal

2 days ago I completed a Sprint Triathlon. If I had told myself this two and a half years ago, I would have wet my pants laughing at the prospect, but there we have it. It’s true. I have the medal (and it’s my favourite medal too).

I think it’s important to remember where I started before I recount Monday’s exploits because I really and completely truly believe that if I can achieve a Sprint Triathlon, then quite literally anyone can. You can do anything you put your mind to if you want to do it enough. The fact that the idea scares you is not a reason not to try because the more the idea scares you, the greater the sense of achievement and more alive you feel because of it. Two and half years ago, the idea of running terrified me but knew that I needed to do something drastic to improve my health. I wanted to be an active, not lumpy Mum and I needed to set my daughters a better example. So I downloaded the couch to 5k app and over the past 2 and half years have persevered with what has become the most complicated relationship of my entire life. Running. I am not fast. I am not a natural runner. Most of the time I actively hate it. It makes me swear and often cry……but it has also given me more than anyone could have ever predicted. Not only a 4 stone weightloss, healthier heart, longer life expectancy (we hope), lower cholestorol, peace of mind, better sleep and the ability to eat (within reason) whatever I like as well as a haul of medals, but most importantly it has given me good friends, my squad, my tribe. I am part of a family of women who all met through running. I would not have met these people if it wasn’t for running; Hattie, Curly Sue, Merida, Miss Fonda, Ariel, Ruby Red, Captain, LA Blond, the list goes on and on. Two and half years ago I didn’t know any of them, but now count some to be part of my “inner circle” of great friends.

So if you are about to start on a couch to 5k course using whatever means you have chosen (app or running group), don’t be afraid of being afraid. Embrace it and remember that you can do it if you really want to do it…and one day it might lead you to a triathlon medal!

So enough of the mushy stuff….let’s talk triathlon. There is more to triathlon than swimming, cycling and running. There is also the complicated lesson of logistics. In order to participate in a triathlon you have to transport your bike to the venue and this requires a bike rack. Now we have a bike rack, but it comes out maybe twice a year and we always need to watch a youtube video to remember how to rack the bikes onto it. The Red Lady and I were due to start our swim at 7.41am, which meant in order to have enough time to get everything sorted out before we started we would need to set off at 5.30am. Ugh. I am not a morning person and I believe that the only reason you should ever be up at 5am is to board a plane for a holiday….but at this time of the morning we needed to be ready to go and faffing about getting the bikes on a rack wasn’t an option. Therefore the Red Lady bought her bike round on Sunday evening and thank goodness she did. After 45 minutes of trying to get the bikes onto the rack during which we all got covered in oil, we finally got the bikes on to then discover that the car would not go in the garage with the bikes  on. Needless to say, there was swearing…..so the next morning, my very lovely Husband got up with me at 5am to help rack the bikes up and at 5.30am the Red Lady and I were away and off on our adventure. (Husband and daughters were to arrive later but in time to cheer me on for the run.)

When we arrived at Westonbirt House, the location of the Sprint Triathlon, we had to go and collect our race pack which had instructions for transition (the area where you go from swim to bike and then bike to run, essentially where you leave all your kit), lots and lots of stickers (to put on your bike and helmet) and race number tattoos. As I have already said, I am not good in the morning and nerves, coupled with my general ineptitude first thing in the morning resulted in my leg looking like this when I had finished.

race-tattoo.jpg

So now as I was clearly looking professional….the Red Lady and I headed off towards the swimming pool to await instructions. The swim leg was 400m and I had been allocated “lane 2, position 1” which meant I was given a red swimming hat. The Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon is put on by a company called DB Max and they are brilliant. I don’t know if all triathlons are like this, but every single Marshall on Monday was superb. The lady in the pool explained with expert clarity that red hats would go in first and that there would 5 swimmers per lane, each wearing a different coloured hat and we would be starting in 10 second intervals. We were each in charge of counting our own number of lengths but there was also a person counting at the end of each lane who would help. If you are tapped on the feet whilst swimming, you must let the tapper overtake you at the end of the length then when you’re done you jump out and then you’re off to transition. Pretty simple. I was off first (being a red hat) and I did feel the pressure as I knew everyone would be chasing me. The Red Lady and a TMR Mum Jemima, was also in the same wave but a different starting position. Despite having practiced my front crawl religiously since January, I am ashamed to say that as I sat listening to the Marshall, surrounded by other triathletes (some of which looked fairly experienced) I lost my bottle and at the last minute changed my plan of swimming all front crawl, to swimming alternate breaststroke then front crawl. I was tapped on the foot twice but on the whole I was pleased with my swim. I had set myself the target of completing the swim in less than 12 minutes and my chip time (which you wear on a strap around your ankle) registered 11.35. I marked it up as a success.

What I hadn’t practiced however, was getting out the pool and getting to my bike in a soaking wet trisuit. I had practiced getting off the bike into a run but not the swim to bike. Westonbirt is also slightly unusual in that there is a 600-700m run from the swimming pool to the transition area (where my bike was) and I was surprised by how weird it felt. I got out the pool and ran to my towel, quickly dried my feet and put my shoes and socks on and tried to run. It wasn’t easy. My legs were wobbly and I felt strangely self conscious as there were lots of spectators walking around, getting in my way too ( “please MOVE I am doing a triathlon” – I muttered inwardly to myself, or words to that effect…) as well as swimmers in later waves walking to the pool. Everyone was offering support but as most trisuits are black, it’s impossible to see who is wet and who is dry so it was a confusing run.

The rules of the transition are plentiful but they all follow a common sense theme. You are not allowed to touch the bike until you are wearing your helmet and this follows that when you come back in from the bike leg, you are not allowed to take your helmet off until you have parked your bike. Safety, safety and safety. I didn’t rush in transition (I should have been quicker really and I will be quicker on future triathlons) but I didn’t want to break any rules. The Red Lady caught me up and we had a little chat as we prepared ourselves. I am quintessentially British and spend a lot of my life worrying about being appropriately dressed for the weather. One of the things I was most worried about on Monday (other than getting up at 5am) was whether I would be cold on the cycle. I would be wet…and hopefully travelling quite quickly so in theory could get very cold. Therefore I decided to put a Tshirt on for the cycle, somehow rationalising that this would keep me warm over a soaking wet trisuit!

There is a “line” at the edge of transition and you cannot get onto your bike until you are over it and also you are not allowed to cross the line coming back from the cycle whilst on your bike. Again safety, safety, safety. You must not ride your bike in the transition zone in case you hurt someone. The DB Max Marshalls were all positioned perfectly – as you headed out to the run the Marshall here had a loud booming voice, full of encouragement and enthusiasm, calling everyone “Runner” and telling us we could all “do it” and we were “amazing”. By contrast, the Marshall situated by the transition line entering and leaving the bike area shouted instructions at us reminiscent of a Sargeant Major but he had clearly decided that not one triathlete would forget the rule and risk disqualification on his watch, so barked at us loudly. It was a bit scary coming in as he shouted at me to “remember the line and get off your bike” but it was invaluable as I had spotted my family and was more intent on waving at them than remembering to get off the bike before the transition line.

As the Red Lady and I headed out to embark on our 24k cycle I felt excited. Now as much as I struggle with running, the opposite is true of my bike. Prior to Monday, thanks to my UGIDA, I had only managed 3 rides on my bike but I had always felt that this would be the strongest section for me and I wasn’t wrong. I quickly sped away and really began to push the cycle. For much of the ride I was on my own, surrounded my beautiful countryside and I found myself nodding to early morning dog walkers and then talking to the horses that were watching from the fields. “Good Morning Mr Horse” I shouted to them, like a crazy woman, but smiling. I felt truly happy. Also mindful of the advice of a professional contact, Mr Lapin, who had advised that I needed to “not come last and overtake a man” I made sure that I overtook the first man I saw (I don’t think he was very happy) and I was not last. I was ecstatic. I love cycling. I sped down the hills so fast that I wanted to squeal and pushed up the hills, digging in, not wanting to slow down. It’s a slippery slope though as I am already eyeing up cleats, new pedals etc but I am confident that I can be good (or at least not completely rubbish) at cycling. I mean, my enormous glute muscles must be good for something!

Westonbirt Sprint Tri – 28.5.18 – www.dbmax.co.uk

Finally, I got off the bike and almost into the arms of the enthusiastic Marshall as I set off on the run. My legs were wobbly and they felt very tired. I hadn’t been cold on the cycle as I had feared because it was warm and muggy and because I was peddling my little heart out. My average heartrate on the cycle was 150 beats per minute and I was hot when I got back. A trisuit is essentially a very large pair of spanx and it hides NOTHING. It is not an outfit for the body conscious but I think it says something about the atmosphere on Monday that in transition, I pulled my Tshirt off and ran in only my trisuit without really giving it too much thought. Westonbirt Sprint triathlon is an event for all types of athletes, all levels of fitness and all shapes and sizes, all doing their best and working towards that medal. I didn’t look out of place as I ran in my black lycra outfit. The run was nothing short of horrendous. It was here that the 5 weeks when I was unable to train properly due to UGIDA really showed. I had planned to run/walk the final 5k 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but this didn’t really happen. My legs didn’t seem to work properly at all but at the same time worked very fast. I couldn’t seem to take normal size strides…so was running in a fashion akin to someone in a Benny Hill sketch running to pat a bald man on the head with comedy music accompanying me. I was 5 minutes ahead of the Red Lady at the end of the cycle but she caught me up. We passed each other (the run was laps) before she caught me and she was clearly enjoying the run as much as I was as she shouted to me “I don’t like you very much at the moment”….. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think!!! 5 minutes later she had caught me and slowed down for a quick chat. I urged her on telling her not to wait and she was off. She was so strong on Monday and I am so proud of her.

On the final lap, I was really hurting but my cheer squad, Husband and Daughters, cheered me over the line and I was ecstatic. The finishers “high” was immense and I don’t think I have experienced a high as big since my very first 10k in 2016. I am a triathlete! I cannot believe it. I am very proud of myself.

Westonbirt Tri - RUN

There was 444 competitors on Monday and I came 380th in the swim, 385th on the bike and 434th in the run. I am always found out on the run.

Over a celebratory breakfast with Curly Sue this morning, we have formulated a plan which will hopefully help me to run faster (finally) and be stronger. I am going to redo couch to 5k but hopefully running faster and slow jogging the walking bits. I’m going to continue cycling (have I mentioned that I love it?!) and swimming but I’m also going to embark on serious strength training. I have ordered some weights and I will get strong. I want to do more triathlons and I’m also considering a wetsuit to try some lake swimming as I would like to do a longer Olympic Distance triathlon. But I don’t want my running to always undo all of the progress made by the swim and bike. I’m also entered for the Portishead Sprint Triathlon in early August so plenty to focus the mind.

So I enter a new phase….again! Get fast and get strong.  Arm wrestle anyone?….

 

“Leave nothing behind”…..

When I wrote my last blog post I was in panic mode. Writing does help me process things and you’ll be pleased to hear that I did calm down a bit. This was further helped by a couple of positive runs (one in a blizzard) in the final 10 days preceding the London Landmarks Half Marathon where I had set myself the target of running it in under 3 hours. As always, though, not everything was straight forward and so using the benefit of my most recent experiences, I hearby give you the list of things to avoid in the lead up to a big race:

  • Whilst worrying about “overdoing it” and getting a last minute injury, decide to go to the triathlon club swimming session instead of going for a run. All good in theory as it’s excellent cross training with no pressure on the joints and they are all really lovely supportive people….but not if you accidentally smash your hand into another swimmer (who happened to be Merida – you can’t make it up can you?!) and injure yourself so much that you have to go and have your fingers x-rayed the next day. Thankfully it wasn’t broken, but in case you’re interested, google says that you can run a half marathon if you have a broken finger.
  • Add to your growing stress levels by agreeing to go along to a running club AGM to talk about your book and running stories 4 nights before the race. Sole Sisters in North Bristol are a wonderful and inspiring bunch of ladies (full of lovely normal runners) who were extremely welcoming and found my stories funny (I think), but I was so worried about not doing a good job for them on the night (as I take my running responsibilities very seriously) that I hadn’t really slept much the night before the talk which wasn’t brilliant preparation for a 13 mile race.
  • When you arrive in London for the race, check your hotel booking before you go. Don’t arrive at the hotel and roll your eyes when the receptionist fails to find your booking and then say, “don’t worry I’ll find my confirmation” only to then discover that you must have price checked the hotel but then never actually got around to booking the hotel after all. We were lucky they had a room and I was lucky that I couldn’t read my husband’s mind as he looked at me from across the hotel reception in growing disbelief as the scene unravelled before his eyes….
  • Fail to book a table in a restaurant for the all important pre-race dinner. This is especially important if you are staying in the vicinity of a 65000 seater stadium which has a rugby match on the same day and so you find yourself in direct competition with all 65000 spectators as you try and find somewhere to eat….needless to say that this was unsuccessful and so we ended up back at the hotel for a bit of a lack lustre pizza.

So with all these challenges behind me, I woke up in the day of the race feeling remarkably relaxed. Husband (who was also running in the race) and I enjoyed a leisurely porridge pot and cereal bar, prepared our race bags and left for the tube station. The tubes were running as they should and as we got closer and closer to Charing Cross tube station, we collected more and more runners. I genuinely felt good and I was excited. Dare I say that I felt ready even and was sure that all my troubles were behind me, although as my preceding week shows, this was probably reckless.

Husband and I enjoyed the opportunity of an unusually quiet Trafalgar Square to get some “Lion Selfies” and catch up with my friend “Gordon” who, I know professionally and had also signed up to the race following one of our drunken nights out in London a few months previously when we decided it would be a great idea… Merida arrived carrying a bottle of champagne in her race bag for our post-race celebrations. Hattie was already there as she had travelled in with her sister (also running the race) and we met up with her soon after. Husband and Gordon disappeared to start in the first wave and Hattie, Merida and I slowly followed being careful to do a proper warm up. I was focussed and precise as we went through the warmups that Curly Sue has drilled into us over the past few months and knowing that Hattie sometimes suffers from a tight calf, we paid particular attention to this part of the warm up. We also saw some lovely Sole Sisters as we were joining the start queue who waved enthusiastically at us to say hello – love those ladies.

And then we were off. Merida, in her gold shorts (the Kylies) was in charge of pacing and so we tried to be obedient and keep our pace down, but it was hard. It was a glorious day and perfect for running. Overcast, no kryptonite-like sun sapping my energy, not too hot, not too cold and no wind. This combined with a fairly flat course and my confidence about any hills we would encounter due to the hard hill training we’ve been working on with Curly Sue added to my excitement.

However, whilst I was feeling great and Merida was practically floating along like a Glinda from The Wizard of Oz in gold hot pants (as a sub 3 hour half marathon is a largely enjoyable experience for someone who usually completes one in 2 hours) then unfortunately, poor Hattie was feeling the opposite. Hattie was struggling to breathe and was unusually quiet. I put this down to nerves initially and also the fact that Hattie always hates the first 5k of any race and so I regret to admit that I did what I have always done. We fell into our routine of me ignoring the complaints and willing her to keep going as I was confident that once we hit 5-6k, she would be off like a train chugging confidently towards the finish line and then she would repay the favour by ignoring me as I start to complain at 14k onwards. But the usual strategy didn’t seem to be working as effectively as usual and Hattie asked to walk for a bit. With my mind anxiously, and selfishly I am embarrassed to concede, thinking of the sub 3 goal I had set myself, I urged her on promising a walk at 10k. Hattie continued but somewhere between kilometre 9 and 10 suddenly ran to the side of the road and clung onto a railing, swaying dangerously. Merida and I ran to her side and were horrified to discover that Hattie was a white as a sheet and her legs were buckling beneath her. She was urging us to leave her….which was never going to happen and so I made my internal peace with my sub 3 hour target and tried to help my friend offerfing her dextrose tablets and pouring some water into her. A couple of other runners also stopped to help and one offered to walk with Hattie as “she was planning to largely walk the race anyway”. I declined as Merida and I decided very quickly that we weren’t leaving Hattie at all and certainly not with anyone unless she was related to them. But then Hattie rallied a bit, probably as the sugar hit her system and she seemed a bit better. The relief was palpable. Walking was possible and then she was able to slowly jog, albeit unsteadily. Hattie then declared that she was feeling better but wasn’t going to finish the race and again urged us to leave her. I forcefully informed her that this wasn’t happening (forcefully…read…told her to shut up) and we kept moving forward not really knowing what would happen. At the 6 mile marker (10k) we saw Hattie’s parents and cousin. I have never been so relieved to see anyone in my entire life. The sight of her Mother spurred Hattie to a near sprint but her legs buckled beneath her once more as she reached her, very confused looking, Mum. I quickly explained what had happened and her Mum gave me that “Mum” look that stated clearly that she was now in charge of the situation and Merida and I could go. I didn’t know what to do, but she urged us on and so we left, feeling worried about our friend but also confident that she was now safe and ok.

As we ran off, I looked at Merida and was almost too scared to ask the question I desperately needed to know the answer to.  “Can we still do this in less than 3 hours?” to which the answer was a fairly unconvincing “I’m not sure, it’s going to be very close and we probably don’t have time for any walk breaks”. I said I would give it all I had and we would make a call at 10 miles (16k) as to whether it was still possible as we were not quite yet at the half way point. So, like Forest Gump, I just started running. I put my head down and ran. There was no trundling. There was “grit your teeth and run” running. My average running pace is usually between 7.50 to 8.30 minutes to run a kilometre and I always get slower as the distance increases. On Sunday, I ran kilometre 12 (over the halfway point) in 6 minutes and 32 seconds. This is my second fastest kilometre EVER and kilometres 12 to 14 were all ludicrously speedy. It hurt, but not as much as I had feared it would. We came to the turn point on the embankment which was also the 10 mile point and Merida decided that she wanted to get a selfie. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. A Selfie?!!! But I gamely smiled and enjoyed the breather as I’d not had even a 10 step walk break for the past 45-50 minutes. Now I realise that Merida probably did it on purpose to allow me to catch my breath as we had also made up enough time by this point that the sub 3 goal was back on the table as long as I kept going.

The final 3 miles were horrendous and yet amazing. Merida patted me on the shoulder and told me I was doing well, but conversation was impossible. I gritted my teeth and ran. I really doubted that I would be able to keep going without a walk break, but I was game to try.

The support from the crowds in a big race is so incredibly important over the final section of the route. Children were holding up their hands for high fives, offering jelly babies and cheering. Merida was high fiving for both of us as I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to remember to raise my knees, pump my arms and relax my shoulders as per Coach Curly Sue’s instructions which kept going round in my head.

I grimaced and gurned my way along the final three miles of the race and the spectators could see I was in pain and so were calling out my name to encourage me, but one lady helped me more than she will ever know. She looked into my eyes and shouted “LEAVE NOTHING BEHIND. Do not cross that finish line knowing your could have given any more. Leave nothing behind”. I promised myself right then that I wouldn’t leave anything behind. I repeated this over and over in my head over the final section and when Merida and I finally crossed the finish line, not having walked AT ALL over the final 3 miles, even having sprinted to the finish line, overtaking runner after runner, I knew that I truly and honestly had left nothing behind. If I met that lady today I would hug her. I think she was a runner and knew exactly what I needed to hear.

LLHM Finish with Paula

Hattie did not retire from the race at mile 6 where we left her safely with her parents. She had a rest, some water and then CARRIED ON AND FINISHED.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw her Mum around mile 9 and she told me. Hattie – you are amazing. Finishing a race when you felt as poorly as you did is nothing short of astonishing. You are a hardcore, rockstar runner and I am so proud of you.

Husband was his usual brilliant running self, nailing the race in a sub 1 hour 50 minute time.  We’ve become a couple who now have to run 13 miles in the middle of any weekend that we go away for….which is not something I would have ever predicted and we’re already thinking about our next destination/race.

I managed to get my sub 3 hour and I’m proud as punch with my time of 2 hours, 56 minutes and 42 seconds which takes 5 minutes and some change off my Bristol Half time last September. I ran my socks off in a way that I never thought was possible. I would have never believed before Sunday that I could run that fast or run for that length of time and yet I did. It hurt, but it didn’t kill me. The pain was manageable and now, two days later, I find that I am wanting to see if I can do it again, on my own without someone pacing me – I think this is what they call a runner’s high, or perhaps just insanity! The mind is an extremely powerful muscle and on Sunday it was the most important muscle in my body. Curly Sue, Hattie, Husband, Merida, Hockey Sister and many others were all confident that I could achieve the target I set myself, but I was not. However, something flicked in my brain on Sunday. People have been telling me I am a runner for a while now, and I sort of know they are right. I mean, I run (a lot), I am a Run Angel meaning that I lead other ladies on runs (which I derive enormous pleasure from), I write a blog about running which was then made into a book about running, but finally I think I am there. On Sunday, when I ran in tears between mile 11 and 12, really, really wanting to walk, feeling that I needed to walk but didn’t, I finally proved it to myself. I am a Runner.

So in the words of Jed Bartlett (The West Wing)…what’s next? Well, I’m going to allow myself a week off because I am knackered….ecstatic but knackered. But unlike after the 10k last year, I don’t feel deflated and sad now it’s all over. I feel completely the opposite. I am so very, very happy and proud.  I’m going to drink a little wine (possibly a lot of wine) and eat some chocolate and enjoy Easter. Merida and I polished off a bottle of champagne after crossing the finish line on Sunday, sitting on a steps of a Whitehall building opposite Downing Street, looking a bit like Patsy and Edina in lycra.            Merida – thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so very lucky to have you as a friend.

Next week will start triathlon training and then in May my old nemesis, the Bristol 10k approaches, where this year there will be an official 75 minute pacer, which I mention for no particular reason at all…..so plenty to keep me occupied in the coming weeks.

But first….a short rest.

Happy Easter.

Finished with medals LLHM

 

 

 

 

Snow, chafing and pacing

February is the shortest month of the year and my goodness it has shot past quickly. We experienced all the seasons over the past 4 weeks: Sunshine, wind, rain and of course snow.

When I trained for the Bristol Half over Summer 2017, I found it hard to run in the heat and so most Saturdays was getting up at 5am to eat, to enable me to start running at 7am before it got too hot. The burny hot yellow thing in the sky has caused more than a few problems for me over the past two years whilst running as it seems to sap my powers.  But this is nothing compared to the problems that the Beast from the East caused.

When running in extreme weathers, the advice is always to layer up. Therefore, when it is cold I usually run in a long sleeved top (base layer), a T-shirt and then either a waterproof, reflective jacket or a zip up windproof jacket, a pair of running gloves, buff (which combines to keep my ears warm as well as keeping the sweat from my eyes), hat if it’s really cold and running tights. It therefore follows that my top half is usually toasty (often a bit sweaty…mmm) and warm but my legs are absolutely freezing.  Running tights, are essentially just that. TIGHTS! One layer of material and not wind or waterproof. This means that basically since the middle of November my bottom and outer thighs have been numb with the cold for 90% of any run and it’s hideous. So the jury is out….Spring or Autumn half marathons? It seems that both have their met office related training challenges.

As we moved towards the end of the month, I experienced all of the weathers on the same run. Last Sunday, Hattie and I set off for our long run (delayed from our usual Saturday by the snow) and I was wearing a base layer and T shirt, but  I was immediately too warm and wishing I had remembered my sunglasses. Within 2k, Hattie was helping to preserve my modesty as I quickly stripped off all layers (I was stood in my bra at the side of a main(ish) road as a women trying to park her car looked in in shock) and then replaced my T shirt, tying my base layer around my waist. Within 30 minutes, the sky was black and then we were caught in torrential rain which lasted a good 20 minutes. I was then cold and put my base layer back on. Unfortunately I was now soaked right through to my skin and undergarments and was absolutely freezing. Hattie really tried her best to keep my spirits up over the final 3k of the run but I was close to tears. When I finally got home and stripped off I was mortified to discover that the rain had caused horrific chafing around my knicker line. It was terrible. There is no photo you will pleased to read, but believe me when I say I screamed in the shower afterwards and was in terrible pain.

Cold runner picture HAT

A wise (very wise) running person has suggested to me that I try and run “Commando” ie without any pants on at all. The reasoning behind this makes sense, in that I don’t run in a cotton T shirt as it would retain moisture and rub, so the same theory should be applied to underwear. However……..the reality is very different. I have had two children and the prospect of doing ANYTHING commando, let alone running 10 miles (as I have to this coming Saturday) is not an option. CAN YOU IMAGINE? There is so much that could go wrong…But with the chafing still very fresh in my mind, I need an alternative and so I have purchased a pair of “Runderwear” Knickers (they sounds hilarious don’t they?) They are very expensive (hence only the one pair) but apparently they will work in the same way that a technical T shirt does. I am hoping they will be here in time for my final long run on Saturday. I will report back.

This run aside however, training on the whole over February hasn’t been too bad. Hattie and I have managed to get our long runs in together and to date the furthest we have run is 18k. We did this by way of a “Park Run Sandwich”. Our nearest Parkrun now is at Eastville Park where I have volunteered to Marshall on a couple of occasions, and so Saturday mornings have been a run to parkrun, a parkrun and then running home, often via the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path. It is no understatement to say that I LOVE the cycle path. There is no traffic and it’s fairly flat which is critical from the 10 mile onwards point. Cars can be hazardous not only for the obvious safety factor, but also as they provide opportunity for idiots to open their windows and shout “encouraging” (not) things as you run along.

The cycle path is awash with other runners who usually nod encouragement at you, families walking, dog walkers and MAMILS (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) zipping along on their bikes. 99% of these are very friendly and I love the Britishness of everyone wishing everyone that they meet a “Good Morning”.

Hattie and I are pondering a route for this weekend’s final long run before the taper starts and one consideration is to run 10 miles of the Cycle Path, ie running for 10 miles, then stopping and either finding a bus stop to get home or (my preference, calling an Uber). It will be like an exploring run PLUS. I’m looking forward to it, although at the moment rain is forecast and so I might be running in a bin bag…

The London Landmarks Half Marathon sent all runners an email yesterday with their start wave and times on. I am (obviously) in the last wave as I seek to run it in under 3 hours. Hattie and I have been working very hard with Curly Sue on this with hill sprints and intervals continuing and I am feeling quite fit. I have also lost 9 pounds since January 1st and I think, gained quite a lot of muscle (which is more important as it’s the muscles that carry you around).

Unexpectedly, LLHM have also decided that I should have the best chance to smash 3 hours too, as they are providing pacers up to 3 hours and 30 minutes as well as a pacer for people who want to run/walk the distance. This is AMAZING. If you’ve read my blog previously, or have my book, you will be aware of the Great Run debacle last year over only pacing the Bristol 10k up to 70 minutes and so I was paced by my (now) great friend Merida as I tried to run it in under 80 minutes.

By providing pacers for the slowest runners too it shows enormous inclusivity and understanding that we are all runners regardless of how fast we can go. I am so happy about this and so this fortifies my determination to get under 3 hours. I have also already pre-registered for next year’s race.

The next 2 and half weeks will be critical and I need to not get injured, eat healthily and drink lots of water. I am currently on a self imposed booze ban (which is always horrible, I am currently thinking about the gin and tonic I will drink after I finish) but if it works it will be worth it. Time will tell.

 

New Year and New Plans

Hmmm. It’s February. How on earth has that happened?

January, although for many is a long and gloomy month, for me is one of my favourites. For one thing, as much as I’m fed up with my busy, exhausting job by the beginning of December (I’m usually a bit burnt out by the end of the year truth be told) by the time January rolls around, I’ve usually had a bit of a rest and feeling ready for action again. I do love my job which is lucky when I also run my own business.

January is also both my and Youngest Daughter’s birthday month. There’s a lot of cake and celebrations in our house in January and this is always good.

January also marked the beginnings of “Half Marathon” training month again and for the first week of January, there was very much a “getting back to it” vibe for me.  As before, Hattie and I made a plan which had all of our long runs together – plotted out. As I am desperate to crack 3 hours for the London Landmarks, I suggested to Hattie that we engage a proper running coach to supervise one of our scheduled 3 sessions a week and that this session should be fartleks (I still snigger when I type that) or as they also known, the dreaded interval sprints. As for who we should engage to manage this, it was an absolute no brainer……enter Curly Sue, or Coach Curly Sue as she is now to be known.

So far we have had 3 coached sessions and I am already seeing improvements in my running and technique as I took 90 seconds off my previous best time at Ashton Court Park Run earlier this month. Queen’s Square in Bristol, *may well have been* designed by a runner wanting to improve his/her fitness and stamina for an upcoming race. (*pretty sure it wasn’t though*).  It is also very convenient for a lunchtime run. Over 3 sessions so far, we have walked, sprinted, tempo ran (this is a new one for me, it’s where you run faster than your usual pace, but not at a full sprint) and ran with raised knees, low shoulders (this is hard for me as my boobs bounce around like a couple of tiggers trying to escape 100 Acre Wood) and engaging your core. This is a lot to think about whilst trying to breathe, and it’s hard. This is why Coach supervises these sessions as when something is hard, it’s easier to bunk off or skip the session. This can’t happen now and both Hattie and I are delighted. These sessions will continue right up until the Half Marathon and maybe even beyond.

Park Run PB Jan 2018

At the beginning of the month I decided to ramp up everything as I also have a sprint triathlon to train for. So on top of 3 runs a week (one of which is a This Mum Runs Wednesday night run when we had 18 turn up on one week earlier in the month), I decided I should integrate a spin class (to cover the cycling element) into my training plan as a well as a swim. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been perservering with my front crawl and I’m pleased to say that now I can now swim front crawl for 400m in one go. It’s exhausting but I can do it. Eldest daughter often accompanies me to the pool on a Friday evening and we’ve managed to go 3 out of the last 4 weeks and so it’s slowly becoming a habit. One the other week, I was unable to swim, go roller blading or ride a bike and I suspect 3 out of 4 weeks will be the normal cycle for swimming training going forward.

Under the support and encouragement of some of the “Uber Tri Mums” I am going to attend a trial session with North Bristol Triathlon Club next week. Honestly, I can’t believe that I just typed that! Now as much as I doubt I will ever feel able to run with them (but never say never), swim coaching and learning the rules of triathlon are all things I need. Plus, I am reliably informed by Merida, that they are all really lovely people and there is nothing to worry about. 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed this, but now knowing how lovely and encouraging sporting communities really are, I suspect (and hope) that they will be supportive as I try and learn their sport. I’m going for a swim coaching session next Thursday and I will report back afterwards.

Unfortunately, all of the extra cycling and sprinting impacted my right leg and something went “ping” 2 weeks ago and I had to see a physio. As usual, tight quads were diagnosed and I was told I was doing too much, needed to stretch more and probably needed to drop a cardio session in favour of weights. I was only out of action for a week and so have decided to put spin on hold until after the half marathon as I can’t really afford drop a run with that 13.1 miles closing in with every day. I only have so many hours I can dedicate to training and although in December my job is usually quiet, in January it is bonkers busy. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t manage to write a blog post. So I will continue swimming but spin and cycling will be left alone until the end of March.

At the end of December I was contacted by TMR HQ and asked if I would assist them with an empowerment campaign aimed at women who find it difficult to exercise for fear of judgement. I jumped at the chance as this is something I really believe in, having rambled on in this blog for more than 2 years now about the mental challenge about calling myself a “runner” when I’m so slow etc, I felt like it was designed for me. The Captain asked if I would attend and be filmed reciting a poem and recorded doing so and that it would be a proper video, with a director and camera crew. A couple of weeks later, they said the results were good, but they needed footage of me running to complete it. I am not going to lie, being filmed running (in lycra) was not mentioned at the beginning and possibly may have influenced my decision whether to participate or not, but I was in too deep now and so on Sunday 7 in January at 8am, I was running around a Bristol park, in the snow, being filmed. It was absolutely freezing but the Director and Cameraman were brilliant. A few days later the results were posted and dare I say it, I am quite proud of them. Hopefully, as this blog shows, you do not need to look like Paula Radcliffe to be a runner and that we all come in shapes and sizes. Here is a link to the video

http://www.thismumruns.co.uk/runnerfullstop

I have been told that the video has been viewed 103,000 times which absolutely terrifies and thrills me in equal measure. If it convinces one person to give running a try then that morning running in -2c will have been worth it.

On Friday evening last week, I was asked to speak at a Charity Scouts fundraising event called “RunFest”. As I sat listening to the lady who had run at least 5k a day since the 1970s, and the gentleman who trained Kenyan Athletes, the Ultra runner and many, many other amazing people, I did wonder what I was doing there?….but I went ahead all the same to tell my running story and really enjoyed the experience. I was asked afterwards if I had considered a career in “stand-up” as my stories were funny….but no, this really is my life!!  I also sold quite a few more books and raised some more money for MacMillan Cancer so it was all extremely worthwhile. I might have also agreed to do a 30 mile Ultra run (which I’m assured is a bit of running, a lot of walking and this will be fuelled by cake)..and so I’m sure there will be more on this as the year progresses.

 

Every penny of profit is being donated to Macmillan Cancer and so far we have raised £622 which I am absolutely delighted with. Thank you to everyone who has bought one.

Yesterday, I ran the London Winter 10k which was organised by Cancer Research UK. This was a 10k around the City of London and I ran it with my long time best mate Blanche. Blanche and I have enjoyed many weekends away over the years, but they have usually involved drinking and dancing so this was a new and unknown kind of weekend for us. It was the first time that Blanche had run more than 5.5k ever in one go and she was AMAZING, smashing 10k and amassing PBs throughout the run. I hope this will be a new thing that we can do together now. My google history this morning is a list of “10k races in….Barcelona/Paris/Amsterdam/Milan/New York/LasVegas” etc because after all, it is all about balance. I think I might have that phrase engraved on my headstone when the time comes. We celebrated in style yesterday afternoon with a pint of lager (with the TMR Captain and Mrs Womble, who is a TMR London Runner whom I have chatted with quite a bit on line and it was lovely to finally meet her) gin and tonic (obviously), crisps and then a meal out with red wine. It was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and neither one of us would have ever predicted even 3 years ago that we would ever have had a weekend away together that would include a 10k race.

Before I finish I just want to give a little shout-out of support to my training partner Hattie, who is managing some very sad family stuff at the moment that is impacting every aspect of her life. Life can throw some horrid stuff at us sometimes for no reason at all but I hope that the running is helping with the headspace. I miss running with you and I’m sending love to your whole family.

Into February, I will try and blog a bit more regularly, not least because it helps focus my mind for training and the London Landmarks half marathon is really creeping up now. Time to properly get down to work and be a #runnerfullstop.